Westworld Taps Further into Its Dark Side with "Dissonance Theory"

(Episode 1.04)

TV Features Westworld
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<i>Westworld</i> Taps Further into Its Dark Side with "Dissonance Theory"

Things are starting to feel more certain within the universe of Westworld. We now know that Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the man pulling all the strings in the theme park, is bordering on megalomaniacal, a result of being filthy rich and being able to control mass swathes of androids with a word or a flick of the finger. We can also be assured that William (Jimmi Simpson) is eventually going to fall in love with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and it will not end well. (My money’s on William going to jail for murdering Logan [Ben Barnes].)

The biggest surety we have now is that, outside of a few anomalies, like the head-smashing stray from last week’s episode, the folks in charge of the park are well aware of every weird thing that’s happening. So much so that one or more of them are either in collusion with or helping along the Man In Black (Ed Harris) on his quest for The Maze, the enigmatic game within a game that’s been popping up throughout. That was revealed when his simple lighting of a match served as a signal to set off a couple of explosions to help him “escape” from prison.

We also have to assume that they’re well aware of what’s going with Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her becoming self-aware. If they’re watching and in control of every last detail of the park—to the point of halting the bloody assault of a couple of guests by jamming their weapons—they have to know that she’s losing it and acting erratically. The writers have been offering up plenty of MacGuffins to keep us guessing, but someone like Ford or Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is letting this all play out for a reason, the least of which is to keep us tuning in every week to figure out where this is all going.

This week also felt like a balm on the chafing efforts by the writers to say bold things about the psychology of man and the troubling questions that arise with the creation of artificial intelligence. Those elements were still a part of the episode, but were handled with much more subtlety and grace this week.

The core of the show, as we’ve talked about already, is the idea of how certain signifiers can have a huge effect on the people’s actions. Think of the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which a bunch of students were assigned the roles of prisoners and guards. The latter group started exerting their will and authority in increasingly dangerous and violent ways that even they didn’t think was possible. The black hats represent the outlaw mentality to the visitors of Westworld. And they act accordingly.

Which is what makes that small moment around the campfire with The Man In Black so revealing. Apparently, this still-unnamed gent is in charge of a foundation that does some measure of good in the world, to the point that another guest whose sister’s life was saved by it attempts to thank him for it—a move quickly shut down with this great line: “Say another fucking world and I’ll slit your throat. This is my fucking vacation.” Here we have an ostensibly altruistic figure gunning down androids and scalping others with impunity. He’s tapped into his dark side and enjoys returning to it as a way of letting off steam.

He’s not alone, either. In an earlier flashback, we watched as some black-clad guest, with a look of delirious glee on his face, randomly starts mowing down all the robots hanging out in the Mariposa. Like many of the other folks paying a tidy sum to be there, they rest comfortably in the notion that these androids will just be stitched back up and sent back into operation the next day. With that kind of power at one’s disposal, who wouldn’t want to exert it?

That brings us back to whatever Ford has up his sleeve and whether he’s in full control of his mind or is slowly losing it. He has the money and the will to completely destroy what he’s built to create, supposedly, something new. He’s playing God and seeming to enjoy every last second of it. The best that his co-workers can do is grin and bear his machinations and occasional outbursts until they can move on to some other line of work.

Last week, I expressed my hope that the folks who created this show and are directing its course knew what they were doing, that they had a clear endgame in mind. The previous episode had me slightly worried that they were bringing Westworld in a direction that didn’t make a lot of sense or would get wrapped up too neatly to warrant a second season. I’m less concerned about that after this week. Being veteran storytellers, they clearly know what the endgame is and are easing us toward it confidently. To the point that, unlike in previous weeks, I’m actually itching to for the next episode to get here. You’ve got your hooks in me, Westworld. Don’t let me down.

Robert Ham is an arts and culture journalist based in Portland, OR. Read more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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